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Ultimate guide to terrariums

Terrariums: low-maintenance, space-saving and simply beautiful. These are just a few of the reasons why terrariums are great for people living in small spaces or for those who just love to garden.

Just by doing a Google search, you’ll get inspired by the variety of plants, rocks and other decorative items you can add to your mini-garden.

Ambius also provides terrariums for your office or workspace to brighten up areas around your business property. Contact Ambius today to discuss terrariums and other interior landscaping solutions. 

While they are easy to make, there are tips and other pieces of important information you should know so you can get the most out of your terrarium. Matt Kostelnick, Senior Horticulturist at Ambius has answered frequently asked questions about terrariums. Read more below:

What are terrariums?

They are a small, enclosed environment for certain plants. Think of it as a mini-greenhouse. The containers for terrarium gardens are typically transparent, such as glass or plastic.

There are two types of terrariums, sealed and open. Sealed terrariums have a removable lid while the open terrarium does not.

How do terrariums work?

They are indoor gardens in a sealed container. The plants and the soil in the terrarium release water vapor – essentially recycling water. The vapor is then collected onto the walls of the vessel and trickles down to the soil. Terrariums are self-nourishing, which is why they require little maintenance, if sealed.

What supplies do you need to make a terrarium?

You’ll need the following:

  • A glass or plastic container
  • Rocks, if you choose
  • Moss, if you choose
  • Soil (growing medium)
  • Plants that won’t overgrow (generally miniature or dwarf plants)
  • Spoon for placing soil
  • Long tweezers for putting materials into vessel

How do you make terrariums?

  1. Buy a special terrarium case to hold your garden or make one of your own out of a soda bottle, fish tank, fish bowl or vase.
  2. Then fill the bottom of your container with half the amount of the layer of soil you plan to use. You may lay rocks as your first layer in the terrarium, but this up to personal preference.
  3. Add any large rocks or pieces of driftwood that you would like to include in your garden.
  4. In the soil, make a hole big enough for the roots of the plants to rest.
  5. Remove the plant from its container – you may need to lightly massage the roots to loosen the roots from the soil.
  6. Position the plants in the thin layer of soil and add the second layer of soil around the plants. Press somewhat firmly – the new soil level should be about the same level as the soil of the plant’s original root ball.
  7. Get creative and mix up the plants, colors and sizes.

What plants work best in terrariums?

Typically, foliage plants and plants that grow slowly work best – avoid fast growing plants. For example:

  • Ferns – Maidenhair, Birds nest, Button ferns
  • Carnivorous plants – Venus fly traps, Pitcher plants, Sundew plants
  • Dwarf palms
  • Airplants – Tillandsia
  • Succulents- cacti, Hawthornia, Echeveria, Crassula, etc.
  • Peperomia

Ferns, carnivorous plants and airplants are quite difficult to grow without terrariums. So, if you would like these plants in your home, we recommend purchasing or making a terrarium.

What are the benefits of terrariums?

  • There are quite a few benefits of terrariums, such as:
  • They help grow plants that would be difficult to grow in dry air.
  • They provide a confined space for a garden – a ‘mini garden.’
  • You can use artificial light, such as LED or fluorescent very efficiently.
  • Terrariums don’t need to be watered often.

How do you care for terrariums?

Terrariums are low maintenance for the most part but we do have some suggestions to keep your terrarium long lasting and healthy.

  • If you choose to grow ferns, trim leaves to prevent them from overgrowing.
  • Make sure to remove yellow and brown leaves from any plants in your terrarium. This is typically a sign of disease or pest.
  • If you have an open terrarium, monitor for pests such as gnats or mealy bugs.
  • If you have closed terrarium, you may want to remove the lid every now and then to let in some fresh air.

What happens if my terrarium gets bugs?

We recommend buying insecticidal soap from your local gardening store and applying it to infected plants. You can also buy pebbles or rocks to deter gnats and avoid over-watering. But, if all else fails and the plant is still infested, it’s best to remove the entire plant.

Plants for terrariums are typically inexpensive and keeping a sick plant in a terrarium could easily harm other plants close by. While buying plants for your terrarium, check for bugs prior to purchasing to save yourself time and money.

Do you have to water terrariums?

Yes, but not as frequently as typical indoor plants. The types of plants found in terrariums tend to be hardy plants that don’t require frequent watering. Also, the greenhouse-like structure of terrariums recycles water instead of evaporating water into the ambient air with normal indoor plants.

How often do you have to water terrariums?

If closed, you might be watering them (on average) once a month but this will vary depending on a variety of factors. Open terrariums benefit from being watered every 3-6 weeks. Rather than watering on a schedule, check the soil to see if and how much water your plants need.

Do terrariums need sunlight?

Most need either direct or indirect light but artificial light may also be used. There are three types of light you can provide for your terrarium.

  • Direct sunlight
  • Indirect sunlight
  • Artificial light

It is recommended to use fluorescent or LED bulbs. Avoid incandescent bulbs.

If you choose to place your terrarium in direct sunlight, you may want to remove the lid on a closed terrarium because it might get too hot for the plants with the lid on.

Do terrariums need to be airtight?

Terrariums are fine if they are airtight, but we suggest removing the lid periodically (about once a week or even daily) to allow fresh air into your garden.

Can terrariums be made of plastic?

Sure! Plastic containers, like those made out of acrylic, work just fine. You can also buy anti-fog plastic containers, which prevent condensation build-up and allows better visibility – these are generally more expensive.

How long do terrariums last?

Terrariums can last anywhere from several years or even longer, if well maintained.

Do terrariums need air?

Yes, but plants in airtight, or closed terrariums, recycle air. During the day, sunlight promotes the growth of sugars during the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, releasing it into the terrarium.

In a closed terrarium, you may want to remove the lid to let fresh air into the terrarium, but a closed terrarium will not damage the plants.

Which kind of containers work best for terrariums?

Glass candy jars, fish tanks with light bulbs, goldfish bowls and coffee pots all work very well as terrarium containers. You might even choose to use a wine bottle, but planting would be difficult due to the narrow opening.

Can you plant trees in terrariums?

Bonsai trees or small junipers might work but that’s about it.

What are hanging terrariums?

They are simply terrariums that hang from a structure, like a wall sconce.

What is the difference between indoor plants and terrariums?

Indoor plants (houseplants) are typically used in terrariums. However, most plants chosen for terrariums are slow-growing and many are plants that are otherwise difficult to grow without high humidity or high light.

What type of soil works best in terrariums?

Coco – coir, peat moss or houseplant soil works with most plants, besides succulents which prefer a well-drained inorganic medium. Some people choose to make their own soil but if you’re short on time, garden store houseplant soil works just fine. For succulents, you’ll need soil with a sand or gravel mixture.

Do terrariums make good gifts?

Of course they do! Not only are they low maintenance, but they’re a beautiful addition to any home, apartment or business.

Do terrariums smell?

In general, no. They actually smell quite nice with an “earthy” odor. But, if yours happens to smell rotten, it’s most likely a sign of root rotting or over-watering.

Do terrarium kits work?

Yes! Many online retailers sell DIY terrarium kits, which work just fine.

Does Ambius offer terrariums?

Yes we do! We have the biOrb, which is a climate controlled and self-regulating microhabitat with automatic day and night cycles.

Indoor Plant Experts

Terrariums are beautiful, customizable and work with a variety of decor themes. If you have other questions or interested in more information about our biOrb and interior plant installations, use our online form or give us a call at 800-581-9946.